Israel to Impose Large Fines for Non–Mask Wearers to Prevent Another COVID Lockdown

Israeli police were instructed to strengthen enforcement efforts for a nationwide mask mandate by issuing high fines for those who don't comply, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said during a news conference Wednesday.

"That's the fair thing to do, because it's wrong to have people who are lazy and hurt the rest of the public," Bennett said.

The mandate applies to indoor gatherings, including in hospitals and public transportation, but observation of the rule has been low, the Associated Press reported. The prime minister said that a national shutdown would be "a last resort," and he believes people in Israel can curtail the spread of the Delta Variant if they take precautions such as wearing a mask.

"The easiest thing, like they repeatedly did over the past year and a half, is to shut everything down," Bennett told reporters. "We may indeed end up there, but we are going to try a different path this time. And it depends on all of us."

"Our aim is to protect the public while preventing disruptions of regular life as much as possible. More transparency and fewer lockdowns," said Bennett.

Bennett added that vaccines alone "won't stop the spread" and Israel citizens could "finish this business" within five weeks if they followed the country's health and safety guidelines and restrictions. The government will also be determining how to regulate large gatherings, like weddings and concerts, as a result of the virus spread, Bennett said.

"Our aim is to protect the public while preventing disruptions of regular life as much as possible. More transparency and fewer lockdowns," said Bennett.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Israel PM Naftali Bennett
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday that Israel can beat a concerning rise in new coronavirus cases without a nationwide shutdown, but he called on people to wear masks indoors and otherwise comply with safety rules. Above, Bennett holds up a face mask as he delivers a statement on the coronavirus situation, in Jerusalem on July 14. Maya Alleruzzo/AP Photo

"Stop shaking hands," Bennett advised Israelis, suggesting an elbow bump instead. "Stop kissing and hugging except within the family." He also urged Israelis not to travel abroad as the Delta Variant spreads in Europe and elsewhere.

Bennett spoke as new daily infections in Israel climbed to more than 700 on Wednesday. That's despite one of the world's fastest inoculation campaigns. More than 5.7 million people of Israel's population of 9.3 million have been vaccinated at least once. Some 5.2 million people have received two doses.

Most cases are mild and serious cases remain relatively low—but almost all new cases are due to the contagious Delta Variant.

Bennett also announced that professor Salman Zarka, head of the Ziv Medical Center in northern Israel, will oversee the country's response as the new coronavirus czar.

Zarka, a member of Israel's Druze minority, formerly commanded the Israeli army's medical corps and ran the Israeli field hospital providing humanitarian aid to Syrians.

Israel Vaccination Worker
Israel is trying to avoid another shutdown and had ordered large fines for people who do not wear masks. Above, an Israeli medical worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine during a campaign by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality to encourage the vaccination of teenagers, on July 5, in Tel Aviv. Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images